Cycling the Archipelago: Stockholm, Sweden

Many of my posts begin with a reflection on the transport to the destination. The ride to Stockholm was no different. Sweden has an estimated 10,000 lakes and endless miles of tall forests. The sights flickered past as we wound our way to the city.

Our Airbnb was situated just 50 yards from a winding river. Beside it ran a walk/bike path that went the full 2 miles into the city center. Bicycling was arguably equal in popularity to commuting by car throughout the city. Crowds of cyclists could be seen in neat lines at rush hour times. On random weekdays, Swedes were seen being active everywhere. Whether it be kayaking and paddle boarding, running and biking, or participating in a bootcamp, it was obvious that the culture there embraced the active lifestyle.

The quality of life and balance between work and leisure in Sweden is entirely unique. The Swedish government mandates a minimum of 25 personal days, and most companies give more. Parental leave is also a combined 480 days between the parents to split, with each mandated to at least take 90 days of that balance. The country is currently undergoing a baby boom. Strollers pushed by fathers and mothers passed us consistently during our stay. Regarding work, employees often take long lunch and coffee breaks and some companies have even adopted 6 hour work days.

While we visited, it was early June. Sunrise started at 3:30AM, and sunset was 11PM, providing almost 20 full hours of daylight each day. Hannah and I speculated what life would be like, starting our workday at 6 or 7, and leaving work for the day by 12 or 1PM and spending the remainder of the day biking or enjoying the sunshine. Conversely, though, winter would bring 20 hours of darkness and cold.

We tried to enjoy the city like the locals did. Our Airbnb host provided us with 2 old bicycles. They worked great up until one of our last days. The handlebars on one continuously loosened more and more while the other bike had the axle/crankshaft come completely out of its housing, rendering it unusable.

As we walked and biked through Stockholm, it amazed me how it had been undersold. The pre-WW2 architecture mixed beautifully with modern glass buildings. The city was alive with tourists and locals, but it didn’t feel super busy. Vast amounts of daylight had people constantly sunbathing or exercising along the waterfront.

A lesser taken course in Stockholm is a visit along its archipelago to the outlying islands. We boarded a ferry to Vaxholm. On the way, we had great conversation with 3 women from Texas who were on a short vacation between college and starting jobs. Ferries, cruise ships, and small sailboats passed us in various directions as we zigzagged through different islands to drop off locals and tourists alike.

We set up a picnic lunch on a corner overlooking a small dock and enjoyed some sandwiches before walking along picturesque red Swedish houses. While the island did not have much to see in terms of monuments or buildings, it was quiet and serene. We meandered across it and eventually decided on a game of chess outside a café, again facing the ocean. We split a Swedish specialty, a cinnamon bun. Thankfully, Hannah’s 1 day chess winning streak from Salzburg had broken and not rekindled since.

Not our ferry, but the Vasa, a 17th century tallship raised from Stockholm harbor

Boarding the ferry back to Stockholm, we chose seats in the bow. The air was a bit warm and stuffy. Upon arrival, we walked for about an hour back to our Airbnb and whipped up a quick dinner of spaghetti before retiring for the night. The following day we took it easy and did more planning for the ensuing months of the trip.

On that final evening, the picture that lay before us was routine from the previous days. Droves of sunbathers cramped the wooden boardwalk. Children laughed and splashed in the water. People were enjoying the outdoors, being social, and soaking up the sun. I am not certain I had ever come across such large crowds of people just enjoying nature.

We wrapped up our final evening in Stockholm and packed for the next morning. With a slightly higher appreciation for the 8am brightness, we dawdled to the train station.


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